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St. Paul Urban Tennis moves into Midway Como neighborhood

Posted on 13 May 2015 by Calvin


St Paul Urban Tennis 2St. Paul Urban Tennis (SPUT) is about more than tennis.

“SPUT is a great program on so many levels,” remarked Pamela McCurdy, whose two children have been involved in SPUT since they were in kindergarten.

Not only does it get kids out exercising in a safe place, but they’re learning a lifelong sport, she pointed out.

Even more than that are the life skills SPUT teaches. “They work on things like integrity, perseverance, fair play and responsibility, to name a few,” said McCurdy. “I love what my kids learn.”

As St. Paul’s only tennis program, SPUT moved into the Midway Como neighborhood in April. The community is invited to an open house on Sun., May 17 from 12- 2pm at Griggs Recreation Center at 1188 Hubbard Ave. (approximately midway between University Ave. and Como Park, and a block west of Lexington).

“We’re excited to be here in the community,” stated SPUT Executive Director Becky Cantellano.

After 25 years of storing equipment one place, having an office at another, and holding meetings all over town, the Griggs Center is SPUT’s first real home.

“We feel fortunate to     be a part of SPUT”

McCurdy has been impressed by the tennis coaches SPUT employs because of the skills they teach and the hard work they pull out of the kids. “They’re so positive and really get to know the kids,” she said. “We feel so fortunate to be a part of SPUT.”

Her eldest daughter, Emmy, who is 14, has learned mental toughness, including how to be calm and centered during a match. Last August, her 12 Advanced Team won the USTA championship for the whole region. Her 12-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, advanced with her team to the finals at the University of Minnesota and made it to the Top 5 in the regions.

St Paul Urban TennisMcCurdy also appreciates how the kids learn how to lose gracefully. Sometimes in life we lose, she pointed out, and it’s important to learn how to not let that get you down.
“The game of tennis was invented and based upon the ability to show sportsmanship even under pressure,” pointed out  Mary Stoner, who has been a SPUT coach for three years.

“The amazing aspect of tennis as a sport is that it mirrors so many things that can occur in your life,” Stoner added.

In addition to learning how to handle pressure, tennis teaches communication, problem-solving and resiliency. “The entire sport is an exercise in problem solving not just in its lines and racquets and balls, but within yourself to have the ability to channel all of that and not let it distract you,” Stoner said.

“Resiliency is an important skill in tennis because you can come back from far behind if you keep working at it.”

SPUT spirit
SPUT calls its life skills and character development element “SPUT S-P-I-R-I-T”’—which stands for Service, Perseverance, Integrity, Responsibility, Imagination and Teamwork.

By demonstrating SPIRIT, kids can earn SPUT bucks to apply towards shoes, rackets and other clothing that has been donated to the group.

Besides the on-court experience, SPUT also offers the younger kids a reading program. SPUT is looking for people to volunteer at least 1 day a week as readers at its various sites.

Mai Vang ClassTaking tennis to the people

SPUT began 25 years ago with 125 players at three park sites. Last year, they reached 4,000 kids at 30 sites.

“We work to make it easy to be involved,” pointed out Cantellano.

“We take the tennis to where the people are,” said long-time board member Gregg Wong, who first learned about SPUT while working as a sports reporter for the Pioneer Press.

About 80 percent of the kids in the program either walk or ride their bikes to the court sites, which are spread out at 30 locations in St. Paul. If there are no tennis courts, SPUT sets up portable nets in parking lots and dead end streets.

Adult lessons offered too

SPUT will offers adult lessons starting May 30. They are conducted evenings on the courts at Central High School, Phalen Park and Edgcumbe Recreation Center, and during the day at the College of St. Catherine. Adult fees are $55 to $65 for once-a-week sessions for five weeks.

“I think there are many adults that would like to play tennis but are afraid because it seems so difficult,” said Stoner. “The goal of the adult program is to get them playing as soon as possible so they can enjoy the sport. It isn’t about technique for them but doing something active and learning something.”

Cardio Tennis is a popular class because it doesn’t require any tennis skills. “This year I’ve noticed that I have people signing up for classes just so they can meet other players,” said Stoner. “We also wanted to offer classes to get some parents whose kids are in the program playing tennis so they can play with their kids.”

Tennis for those who might not be able to afford it

When one of SPUT’s founders, Sandy Martin, began working to recruit Wong to serve on the board of directors in 2003, it was an easy sell. “I knew how much good they were doing for kids, especially kids who didn’t have much means,” said Wong, who has been board chair for eight years and is currently secretary.

He loves seeing how much fun kids have playing tennis, kids who otherwise probably wouldn’t be able to afford to play.

Fees for the seven-week summer program beginning June 15 are $70 for youths 5 to 8 years old and $95 for those between the ages of 9-18. Four-day camps are offered between June 15 and July 17 are $40.

But SPUT does not turn away any kid because of an inability to pay. Last year, SPUT gave out nearly $150,000 worth of scholarships. Discounts are offered for families with more than one child in the program.

In addition to its summer camps, SPUT works with schools, the Boys and Girls Club and other organizations throughout the school year, offering tennis classes and other programs.

“The biggest misconception is that it requires a lot of money to play.  That, of course, is true for every sport when you get to a certain level,” observed Stoner. “At the beginning stages tennis only requires a racquet, some balls and a court or wall to play against.”

U 12 advancedHalf of coaches are former SPUT players

Through the leadership group, SPUT trains its older kids on how to be coaches and leaders. Topics include financial literacy, wealth development and entrepreneurship. Over half of SPUT’s 80 coaches are former SPUT participants.

“The younger ones always need good role models and our leadership kids really do that,” noted Stoner.

“It’s just great to see the kids develop as coaches and leaders,” agreed Cantellano, navigating through their own self discovery.

Wong has seen many kids from the Eastside who had never played tennis before go through the summer camps and go on to be coaches themselves. Many of them are first and second generation Hmong and Karen immigrants who said later that this program kept them off the streets. They’ve gone on to be the first in their families to attend college.

“To see these outcomes makes everything we do worthwhile,” said Wong.

Free family night June 12

“The best part of SPUT is that we offer the opportunity to kids to try the game and see what fun it is,” stated Stoner. “We provide rackets and even shoes. There’s no excuse. Everyone can get out there and get active,” encouraged Cantellano.

To kick off SPUT’s 25th summer, there will be free family nights/open houses on Fri., June 12, from 4:30-6:30 at all 30 park sites. Visit www.urbantennis.org for a list of sites and to register for all SPUT programs. Or, call the SPUT office at 612-222-2879.